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Police officials dominate list of highest-paid Nassau employees

Nassau County police cars in Syosset on Dec.

Nassau County police cars in Syosset on Dec. 28, 2013. Police are intensifying patrols at religious places of worship the week of April 14, 2014 as Long Islanders of different faiths observe the holidays and in light of Sunday's deadly shootings at two Kansas Jewish centers. Credit: Jim Staubitser

High-ranking law enforcement officials dominated the list of Nassau County's highest-paid employees last year, with a retired police lieutenant in the top spot with $554,000 in total pay, according to legislative budget officials.

Twenty police officials who retired last year were paid at least $400,000 each in total salary, including base pay, overtime and termination pay for unused sick and vacation time.

Another officer with more than $400,000 in total pay -- a detective with the Special Investigation Squad -- died in a car accident in November. The termination pay went to his family, union officials said.

The figures are in a new report of the county's top 300 wage earners compiled by Nassau's independent Office of Legislative Budget Review.

The analysis was requested by Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), who said Nassau legislators should have the same data as lawmakers in Suffolk, which issues an annual report on top earners.

A spokeswoman for the legislative GOP majority declined to comment on the report.

Members of the Superior Officers Association, Police Benevolent Association, Detectives Association, District Attorney's Investigators and four high-ranking nonunion police appointees hold all but one of the top 300 spots.

One member of the Civil Service Employees Association, with total pay of more than $210,000, including base pay and overtime, made the list.


The top earners

Top earners included 115 members of the Superior Officers Association. Retired Lt. John O'Donnell was Nassau's No. 1 earner in 2013 with $554,038 in total wages, including $122,759 in base pay; $53,425 in overtime and $313,341 in termination pay.

Retired Lt. James McHale ranked second with $533,592 in total pay, including $144,977 in base salary, $41,812 in overtime and $339,072 in termination pay.

Retired Capt. Alvin Johnson was third with $529,381, including $156,724 in base pay, $4,515 in overtime and $356,406 in termination pay.

O'Donnell declined to comment, according to union president Brian Hoesl, and efforts to reach McHale and Johnson were unsuccessful.

Hoesl said the termination pay is "earned, and I wholeheartedly believe they are entitled to it both contractually and morally."

Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center for Public Policy, which promotes free market principles, described the retirement packages received by Nassau cops as a "prehistoric benefit" that should have been rescinded years ago.

"These are benefits that no longer really exist in the private sector world," Hoefer said.

PBA president James Carver said the termination pay policy "saves the county money" by allowing officers to store up sick and vacation time. If they had to use it as they earned it, other officers could have to fill in for them on overtime, he said.

The report comes as the wages of about 7,000 full-time Nassau employees remain frozen by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state monitoring board that controls the county's finances. Nassau faces a projected $122 million deficit in 2014, NIFA said last year.


Unions, NIFA agree

Leaders of four county labor unions reached an agreement this month with NIFA to lift the wage freeze in exchange for union concessions including requirements that new hires contribute 15 percent to their health care and pension plans.

NIFA says Nassau must set aside $129 million in new revenue from speed cameras, sales tax and mortgage recording fees to cover contract costs if the concessions do not generate anticipated savings.

NIFA officials and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's office said they could not comment because they had not received copies of the Office of Legislative Budget Review report.

The PBA, one of the four unions to sign onto the new labor deal, had 109 members among the county's top earners, including 103 police officers, the report found

Carver said PBA members work overtime more than at any time in recent years because of departures of officers during the wage freeze. Nassau employs about 2,200 police officers, compared with more than 2,700 at the start of 2009.

Mangano has said he plans to hire at least 450 new officers in the next three years.

The Detectives Association has 55 members among the top wage earners. Union president Glenn Ciccone said his members have seen their overtime increase as they work "around the clock to close cases"

The report shows police overtime was $67.3 million last year, a 4 percent increase from 2012. More than $18 million of the 2012 OT costs was attributed to superstorm Sandy, and was reimbursed by the federal government, the budget review office said.

The county budgeted $50 million for police overtime in 2014. If the overtime trend continues, the budget review report said Nassau could face a $21.3 million deficit in 2014.

"Savings from attrition and vacant funded positions will be needed to offset this potential deficit," the report said.

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